Written by: The Administrator
The esteemable Heron are a perpetually underrated gem, and a band that continues to make its mark on our ink-splattered populace. Back in the primordial days of ye olde Sleeping Village, we briefly reviewed their (very good) A Low Winter's Sun, and in the early days of the pandemic, the excellent Time Immemorial received the Volt Thrower treatment and stamp of approval.
It's my continuing assumption that everything Heron does is inherently high quality, and this latest album, Empires of Ash, may very well be their strongest and most consistent album to date. If you have enjoyed their back catalog, you'll inevitably find a lot to love with this latest. If Heron are a yet-unknown entity in your rolodex of sludgy post-metal bands, this album makes for a fantastic entry point.
But lest the introduction read too much like a conclusion, let's dig into the specifics. Heron are a band that balances extremes exceedingly well. At their heaviest, they ooze a delightfully murky and cavernous aggression that recalls, for sake of comparison, something like pre-Born Into Chaos-era Yatra. The overtly harsh vocals are a point of comparison, as is the borderline neanderthalian lurch of the riffage. At other moments, the bombastic clash of noisy post-rock and antagonizing angst sounds like These Beasts were thrown into a vat of hot tar and forced to slow things down a bit. When leaning toward the more bituminous and pugilistic end of their respective spectrum, Heron hit damn hard, but with that said, the album is very dynamic in terms of its overall intensity.
As an example, belligerent opener "Rust and Rot" feels like a far cry from the first half of followup "The Middle Distance," which meanders through lighter pastures before succumbing to the sludgy embrace of thick fuzz and Jamie's throat-rending howls. "Hauntology" pulls a similar trick, spending some quality time in somber waters, while the stellar post-rockin' closer "With Dead Eyes" leans into a noisy eeriness that, for all its nihilistic attitude, doesn't move with the sasquatchian weight of prior tracks. The variety is pretty damn engaging. Breaks like these are welcome, as overexposure would take hold if one were to spend too much uninterrupted time in the harshest environs of the Heron biosphere. This willingness to keep things fresh harkens back to A Low Winter's Sun, which similarly applied well-timed breaks in intensity. At its most raucous, listening to this album is like standing in a hollow slowly filling with caustic fog. At its most gentle, the experience is significantly more soothing. The balance is quite enjoyable, and the transitions betwixt extremes feel fairly seamless.
I am genuinely surprised more people aren't talking about this album. Empires of Ash sits between hefty glacial doom, post-metal expansiveness, and gritty sludge aggression, seemingly fitting into the niche occupied by bands such as Thou or perhaps Fister. Each track has a tangible and unique presence, and Heron's overall ability to conjure an aura of turbulent dread makes their music, alas, highly relatable. Bottom line? Empires of Ash is an intense album, as imaginative and varied as it is emotionally stirring. That potent combination, dear reader, makes for a highly memorable listening experience.
Heron - Empires of Ash was released Dec. 2nd, 2022 via Sludgelord Records. Find it here!
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We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.